Stuart Appleby will have the honour of leading the field into the third round of the US Open Championship but the Australian will be chased by a potent pack including several European Tour members and World Number One Tiger Woods.
Appleby carded a second round 70 to add to his opening 69 at Torrey Pines in San Diego for a three under par total of 139 to lead the way by a shot from American Rocco Mediate, Sweden’s Robert Karlsson – who heads the European Tour challenge – and the imposing figure of Woods.
“I don’t think I’m the first guy to say that it is very difficult out there,” said the Australian who had four birdies in his round including one on the 18th to take the outright lead into the weekend. “But in saying that, the course is in magnificent condition.
“Going into the weekend, I’ll be playing the course as I know it, using some of my experience that’s getting better in these type of tournaments and just keep trying to move forward, or if not moving forward, then just trying to be consistent both physically and mentally.”
Appleby will partner Mediate – who carded a second round 71 – in the final group of Saturday’s third round but all eyes will be on the penultimate grouping: from an American perspective because it contains Woods but from a European standpoint because it features Karlsson.
The towering Swede continued to tap into a hugely impressive run of recent form which has seen him finish third-third-third-second in his last four outings on The European Tour International Schedule and he posted his second consecutive 70 to tie Mediate and Woods on two under par 140.
“I was really, really happy with the way I played today,” he said. “I was putting well and got up and down from some difficult lies which was encouraging. Yesterday my long game was good, today it was my short game; hopefully tomorrow I can put them both together and we’ll see where we go.
“Playing with Tiger is definitely a treat as it is great to play with the best player in the world. I have played with him a number of times before and also in The Ryder Cup too of course. But I know it is going to be a challenge too. It is always loud around him but it is something you just have to get used to if you play with him.”
Understandably, the bulk of the hullabaloo which surrounded the second day of the 2008 season’s second Major Championship centred on Woods who continued to defy the odds – in the fact this is his first competitive outing since having knee surgery after the Masters Tournament – with a thrilling 68 for 140.
The World Number One raised the temperature around the South Course with four birdies in five holes from the first (his tenth hole of the day) to blast himself back into contention for his 14th Major Championship title before ending the day with a birdie four on the ninth to position himself firmly in Appleby’s rear-view mirror.
“To be honest, when I started out I was just trying to get back to even par for the tournament, especially when I dropped shots at the 16th and 17th and didn’t birdie the 18th,” he said. “But I still felt if I played well on the inward half I could get back to even and then I just started running them in from everywhere.”
Continuing the excellent first two days for the European Tour contingent in southern California were Spain’s Miguel Angel Jiménez and Lee Westwood of England who moved into a share of fifth place on one under par 141 alongside Americans Davis Love III and D J Trahan.
Jiménez in particular was hugely impressive, carding the best round of the tournament to date, a sizzling 66, to move firmly into contention.
“This is a tournament that you need to play all the clubs in your bag well and I certainly did that today,” said the winner of last month’s BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth Club. “You need to put the ball in the fairway or you don’t have a chance to put the ball on the green. Then of course you need to put in on the low side of the hole – so you have to have a game plan.
“But I feel good right now and I feel like I’m hitting the ball pretty well. It is my 26th year on Tour and I’m 44 so it is pretty obvious to say that I would really love to have a Major in my career.”
Alongside the Spaniard, Westwood was in equally fine form, adding a 71 to his opening 70 to ensure his participation in the business end of the tournament on Saturday.
“Any time you sign for level par at the US Open you can’t complain,” he said. “All in all, 71 was pretty good. It could have been 68 or 69 but 71 is pretty good and I’m not going to knock that back. One under is right in there. It was nice to birdie the last as well, hit a lovely five iron in there.
“I am always quite happy to go out there and grind out pars. That’s the game for the weekend. Patience is the name of the game at the US Open, it can be fairly boring but you just have to go out there and grind out pars.
“There is a long way to go, we’re only half way through but I am only two shots off the lead and I have a better chance now that I had last year and in the last few years, so we’ll see how it goes.”
Three European Tour Members – Luke Donald, Ernie Els and Carl Pettersson – were amongst the players who ended the first two days of the Championship on level par 142, while young Englishmen Oliver Wilson and Robert Dinwiddie had every right to be pleased with their first two day’s work, Wilson in a share of 14th place on 143 after his 71 while Dinwiddie shared 16th on 144 after carding a similar score.
Further down the leaderboard, the best round of the day outside Jimenez’s effort was posted by the reigning Open Champion Padraig Harrington, whose 67 quickly banished memories of his opening 78 and saw him go into the weekend in a share of 22nd place on three over par 145.
While the final two rounds await the players above, for some there will be no more action, including defending champion Angel Cabrera whose rounds of 79-76 for a 13 over par total of 155 signalled the end for the Argentine.